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Roy spreads the word

Roy spreads the word

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So, what's up with Roy Disney being fired from Disney? Did he really get fired? How can a Disney get fired from Disney? Did he just give up? What's so wrong with Michael Eisner?

If you're unfortunate enough to serve as the unofficial source of Disney rumor and gossip verification among your friends and family, perhaps you too have been asked these questions over and over again during the past few weeks. While I have had my own theories about Roy Disney and Stanley Gold's departure from the Disney board of directors, I wasn't entirely sure what was really going on. Especially after seeing the original savedisney.com website, which a friend of mine described as "looking like it was done by a 5th grader." However, after having a chance to hear Roy Disney speak in person at a NFFC (an organization for Disneyana enthusiasts) convention this past Saturday, I can now firmly say that I'm a believer in his course and in his cause.

I was fortunate enough to have been able to attend this presentation, and took copious notes so I could provide a detailed report to you, the loyal readers of JHM. Roy's speech itself was very short as he chose to spend most of his time answering questions submitted by those in attendance, which I thought was a very nice touch. Throughout the address he joked repeatedly with the audience and had a very jovial, energetic, and upbeat demeanor. It's very obvious that he's from a family of showmen.

Disney began his speech by acknowledging the presence of his own son Roy, and stating the importance of his family's support. He said that he called a family meeting shortly after his resignation where it was decided that the fight for the future of the Disney company ".... is just too important not to work together as a family."

Roy then referenced the address of his savedisney.com website and detailed its latest improvements. In fact, he referred back to the website over and over again during his address. He stated that the new, improved savedisney.com site would be updated daily, and all news and information regarding his efforts would be promptly posted. He asked the audience for their support, and encouraged everyone to sign up at the website for future updates.

Roy then thanked the audience for attending, and said that he knew everyone in the room embraced "...the Disney idea, which you know as well as I do stands for quality, stands for families, stands for getting your money's worth, and it stands for a lot of innovative and new and creative ideas that make things fun whenever you visit a park or go to a film. One of the reasons for my leaving, other than the fact that they fired me, is that I saw that quality slipping away from us."

Asked about favorite memories of his father, Roy O. Disney, Roy said that he was most proud of him at the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971. Walt Disney died in 1966, and left behind all sorts of ill-defined plans for the huge parcels of land just purchased in Florida. Apparently Walt and Roy O. were having a bit of an argument at the time, with Walt wanting to build his city of the future, Epcot, and Roy O. wondering how that would make them any money. Roy O. maintained that a new Magic Kingdom and some resort hotels were needed first. "It happened that Walt died during that argument, so dad sort of won it by default. He [Roy O.] was about to retire, but put his heart and soul into opening Walt Disney World in Florida."

Disney was next asked what his #1 concern for the future of the Walt Disney Company is. "That's a hard question to answer without libel laws getting in the way. We need to do everything we do better than we do it, and I mean everything. And we can't do it until we make up our minds that investing in the business to make things better is how we got where we got in the first place. We can't undercut everything we do by skimping on maintenance, skimping on gates, skimping on films." Roy continued, "And let me say this, there isn't a person at the company, other than the few we know the names of who don't believe that too - who would kill to make it better if they could. They don't have the budgets and they don't have the manpower, and the work is not appreciated. The people who are responsible for the quality and the upkeep aren't there enough. [They] don't understand the problems and don't appreciate the hard work that goes into maintaining the parks as what they are and the films as what they are."

Roy spent the next few minutes discussing the dismal cast member morale and what it would take to make improvements. "Everybody has, if given a chance to have it, pride in their work. There's an enormous history in this company of people coming to work with us because it was a place where they could create a sense of well-being, fun, and unity. That needs to be reinforced again. Also, patting people on the back is not such a bad thing to do - I've certainly seen it in my own walking around the parks or walking around any part of the company at all. You know, just walk into a room, find out what they do, and be interested in complimenting them on their work. Part of anybody's reward for what they do is what they bring home inside of them."

Disney was asked about the fun side of his father - did he have to be serious all the time while Uncle Walt got to play around? "They all played around," he said. "Dad was certainly the more serious of the two. Walt was like a big kid all his life, he loved to have fun." Roy O. Disney was a man known for his fiscal care and sense, and for being the force that reigned in Walt's over-active imagination and his subsequent dangerous spending habits. Roy continued, "You're certainly going to read about me at some point - Roy just wants to go back to the past and all he wants to do is spend a lot of money. I certainly, having grown up with my father, know that you're going to get what you pay for. But also that value created by investment is what makes our company grow."

Then came the question I was hoping would be asked: We know you have lots of support, Roy, but there is, among your supporters, somewhat of a feeling of futility due to the position of power enjoyed by Michael Eisner and current management. Disney replied, "The main message right now that I can give everybody is that it may take a while. We've got to figure out how to keep the ball in the air and keep the heat on these people. They're a little nervous; they're saying rather strange things behind our backs. We'll have some recommendations for those of you who are shareholders on how to deal with this upcoming annual meeting March 3rd in Philadelphia. Which is kind of a strange place for the Disney Company to meet, there's a little escapism going on there. We will at some point, shortly, let you know at least how we're going to vote - I guess you could probably guess."

The next question, a follow-up, asked how those who are non-Disney stockholders can. "Register with us on the website and stay with us there," Disney said. "We've just installed some software that will enable us to get back to everyone who registers on the website with information as it comes along."

Then, just to make Jim Hill feel good after having devoted his entire web site to this issue for most of last week, Roy discussed the WDFA-F closure. Disney said, "I feel horrible about what happened in Florida. It was a series of things...that happened, all the result of unbelievably bad management. The main thing I feel about it is that all they've done is thrown out the baby and the bath water. These are the people who made Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear. They were hard at work on the next one which I continue to think would have been a really cute movie, and were abruptly told that it wasn't going to go on and they should look for another line of work. There's a few, some 30 of 250, who are under contract and will probably move to L.A." He continued, "To me, it's a failure of management to figure out what to do with creative people. At the heart of it [is] a failure to recognize that creativity is the basis of this company; what it was founded on. Every time we've ever been successful at anything it's because we've been creative people who have found new ways to do things...new ways to entertain...and certainly ways to get all of you who have cares, everyone of us have cares, ways to get you out of that for a few hours in your life. I think that is our mission. We should be, and forgive me for saying 'we' even though I don't work there anymore, in a creative business. We're not as creative as we were once."

Continuing on the topic of WDFA-F Disney said, "It was the people I used to work with that made the job fun. I know, going there now, everybody's looking over their shoulders, being careful what they say - you might get fired for saying that, or for having a different opinion or [for] voicing it. One of the reasons I'm here right now is because the board of directors was told never to speak about company business outside the boardroom without Michael Eisner's permission. It came to a point, which is now, where the only way you could say what you think was to get out of there. And I promise you there's an awful lot of people who would say the same thing I'm saying if they thought they could, and I find that...um....awful. That's why things aren't as good as they used to be. Because if you can't have fun, and you're supposed to make other people have fun, how the hell do you do that?

The final question asked Disney - Do you still visit Disneyland park and what changes have you noticed? "Well, I have to pay to get in now, that's one big change. I have found, both here and in Florida, that the maintenance isn't what it used to be. I see more and more junk on the ground that didn't get picked up when that was like a reflex action. We've seen some of the bathrooms not as clean as they used to be, and light bulbs out and paint falling off, so we've seen a lot of change that's not all good. There's some good stuff, too...Matt Ouimet has come to replace Cynthia Harris as manager of Disneyland. I like Matt a lot, I think he's a really good guy. Given the opportunity for him - that's the hard part - to do his job the way he sees to do it, things will get better. There's a lot of wonderful people who are like horses trying to get out of the corral, and we're just going to try and let them out.

With that, Roy concluded his remarks to a loud and sustained standing ovation.

So, I gotta tell you folks - this guy is the real deal. I was mightily impressed by what I saw and heard. There's hope indeed for the Walt Disney Company yet if Roy and Stanley can keep on track, keep the fire held to the feet of the current management team, keep working their plan, and continue to enjoy the support of thousands of Disney fans. This man understands, perhaps better than anyone else, what the Disney name means and what it stands for.

Roy knows what a beating it has taken under the current regime, and has taken the steps he has in order to restore it to its former glory. Most of you probably already know that he resigned from the Disney board once before - when he lead the 1984 ouster of then company president (and Walt's son-in-law) Ron Miller. It was Roy (and Stanley Gold) that were instrumental in installing Michael Eisner and Frank Wells at the top of the Disney company, a move that saved the company in the eyes of most people. He's been there, done that.

That's not to say, of course, that he doesn't have a long, uphill battle. Michael Eisner is firmly entrenched, and has surrounded himself with sympathetic supporters. The company is seeing improved financial results, and the stock price has been steadily climbing. Roy's stock holdings are not at the level they were in 1984, and the company is not in near the precarious position that it was back then. But if anyone can pull this off, based on what I saw and heard last Saturday, it is the man whose name is still on the building.

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